So fringe a cause, for so long


So fringe a cause, for so long


In the 1830s, 1840s, 1850s, 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, women’s rights was a marginal, oddball cause. Focusing on the mesmerizing women who demanded equality makes it jarring to zoom out & see how fringe they were. A college commemoration reminded me. Thread. @Cornell students,1883

Cornell’s Library created an elegant website in 2017 to commemorate the New York state centennial. There's some beautiful stuff, but the material from students reminded me just how weird and counter-cultural suffrage was for most of the 19th century.

Cornell was unusual in admitting women from the beginning - in theory, women of all races, though another @CornellRMC exhibition describes a belated, stingy welcome for Jane Eleanor Datcher, class of 1890, and the handful of Black women after her.

Women of all colors were a minority on campus until 2011, so maybe the antipathy of early students toward suffrage shouldn’t be a surprise. In 1880, in a graduating class of 71 men and 9 women, only 20 people expressed support - including 6 of the women.

The exhibit curators went looking for records of women students in support, and found little. “[S]tudent suffrage groups left no records, and women rarely noted suffrage activities in yearbook entries.” All they could find were a few tepid references in letters home.

When Lillie Devereux Blake came to Ithaca to speak in 1881, a female student wrote to her parents: “it is too near examinations to attend and aside from that I should be most afraid to go for fear the [men] students will make some fuss.”

When New York debated a (losing) suffrage amendment in 1894, 300 signatures in support came from students and faculty of Cornell, which then had an enrollment of nearly 2,000. Interest increased after the turn of the century; by 1902 a Political Equality Club had formed.

Nora Blatch, daughter of Harriot Stanton Blatch, granddaughter of ElizCadyStanton, graduated in 1905. She was the first US woman to get a degree in civil engineering, and the President of said club, natch.

Things picked up after that, on campus and among locals.

The 1915 (losing) referendum was bigger news in town than the 1894 attempt. Visit the site for more; it's great.

This isn’t to say no one cared before 1900 - at Cornell and other universities, and in women’s clubs and in churches and synagogues and on factory floors. Of course some cared - that’s how we persevered so long. But the reminder that suffrage wasn’t popular in the 19th century - even among the women privileged, smart, and brave enough to go to college - offers a little perspective. #Suffrage100 #CenturyofStruggle May 29, 2020


Daily Suffragist




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Daily Suffragist, “So fringe a cause, for so long,” Daily Suffragist, accessed October 6, 2022,

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